Several of my friends suggested that I write about a typical day at school. Typical? Any teacher reading this is probably chuckling right now. Is there ever such a day? On a calm day, classes occur without incident; those days are few and far between. Something simple like a change in weather will ignite restlessness in students. And then there are the days when they are volatile for any number of reasons ranging from homecoming activities to a gang fight in the neighborhood. So, I decided to approach this one from the perspective of “a day in the life” description.
It is Tuesday and the weather has finally cooled a little, giving us a break from the oppressive Kansas summer heat. Since the first hard freeze is still months away, everyone’s allergies are acting up. Class is taught with the background cacophony of sniffles coughs, and sneezes.
Our school’s schedule is a rotating block schedule. This means that we have four class periods a day, each meeting for ninety minutes every other day. On this day, my first period is my plan period. My goal is to grade a set of personal narrative essays, but before that, I need to contact parents of seniors who have been absent. With my first phone call, I actually reach a parent. Unfortunately, Jordan’s mother tells me that they kicked him out of the house and could care less if he was in school or not. I call the attendance center to inform them of Jordan’s status and see if they can find someone to locate him.
My next phone call reaches the student herself. Veronica tells me that she’s been sick but hopes to be back before the end of the week. I make arrangements to leave her assignments in the office for her sister to pick up after school. Three more phone calls and I leave messages.
I type up letters for six more students who I’ve not been able to reach by phone. These are seniors who have missed four or five days of class and are in danger of failing – which ultimately means they won’t graduate in the spring. I take the letters to the attendance center to be mailed, check my office mailbox for messages and head back to my classroom.
I have ten minutes left – no grading today. I write the agenda for my first class on the board and get the literature books on the tables for students. The bell rings and I head to the hall for hall duty; I prefer to think of this as the time to welcome my students to class. This class is English Composition College Reading (ECCR), and the senior students’ abilities run the gamut of those who struggle with English as a second language to those who should have enrolled in the Advanced Placement class but for a variety of reasons chose ECCR instead. The challenge is teaching to all levels.
Today, we are having a Socratic Seminar over a story and an article about the status of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban rule. Students were to have written three questions for discussion. This will be our first Socratic seminar, so I ask for 15 volunteers. After some prodding, I have my volunteers. We arrange the classroom so that we have two circles; those in the middle will be discussing the readings and those on the outside will be taking notes on content and process. For the first time, the discussion was not too stilted – some talk interspersed with moments of silence. I know from past experience that these will get better as students become more comfortable with the strategy and each other. I like to use the Socratic Seminars because the strategy encourages students to think, to voice their thoughts, and to accept the ideas of others. And when I’m lucky I discover that they truly connected to the text that was chosen. We spend the final part of the period reflecting on the process and then reading a handout on tips for writing a critical analysis. That will be their second essay for me – the first analysis for the year and usually a monster piece of writing for them to conquer.
My next class is my Advanced Placement English Literature class – another group of seniors. We started the year with a unit on poetry and have been practicing various active reading strategies. Currently they are working on a packet of poems written about poetry. The previous class period they worked in “expert” groups, in which the entire group focused on one poem and read for literal, interpretive and critical understanding. Today, they will go to their original group and each student will lead a discussion of his/her poem. I am always excited on these days because my students amaze me – their perception and insight is apparent in the small group discussions. I rotate between groups, listening and perhaps adding a comment. This takes the entire ninety minutes of the period, and students finish with pages of notes and annotations.
Lunch next. Four to six other teachers join me in my room for about 30 minutes. Sometimes students come into my room to work, but since this is early in the year, not too many have started yet.
The final period for the day is a seminar class for test prep and extended study for other classes. My 31 AVID sophomores are in this class. We spend the first half of the period pre-bubbling in the test booklets for the PLAN test (a pre-ACT type test) that they will take in another week. The last part of the period, students leave to work with other teachers or to attend tutoring. I have several seniors come to my room to talk about their senior projects.
The bell rings to signal the end of the day, I stand in the hall for our required ten minutes of hall duty as students leave the building. Since I have to pick up my two youngest children from school, I don’t stay and work like a number of teachers do. Instead, I pack up that stack of personal narratives from this morning. I can’t usually grade in the evenings because of my own children’s activities and by the time they are in bed, I am too tired. So I usually rise sometime between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m. and grade before I go to school. And if I’m lucky, the next day will be as smooth as today. And if it isn’t, then I hope I have the energy to meet the challenge.
The majority of teachers are primary and secondary school teachers. They generally choose a specific grade level or area of specialty in which to teach. Teachers are responsible for planning and then evaluating student performance. They are then responsible for promoting growth through providing additional assistance and meeting with parents and school staff to discuss student development and ways to improve current teaching methods to better suit students.
It is a teacher’s daunting task to add life to their student’s school day by generating interest in all subject areas, even those that can be tedious for most students. They work to create lesson plans tailored to their students’ level of cognitive ability and interests. Nowadays, teachers are working to move away from traditional methods of teaching and using more creative and abstract ways of presenting topics to their classes.
It is important that they have a good sense of humor and the ability to think like their students. They must also be comfortable dealing with a wide variety of personality types and ability levels, while still treating all their students equally.
A day in the life?
It is most rewarding for teachers when they really make a difference in a child’s life, when they are able to ignite curiosity and growth in their students. But as much as teaching can be rewarding, it can also be frustrating and stressful when dealing with unmotivated students, large classes, and heavy workloads. Most significantly, teachers will sometimes have to deal with unruly behavior and violence from students. In addition, schools in inner cities and poor communities are often run down and lack much needed resources.
Despite the seemingly short workday teachers put in, they tend to work longer than the average 40 hours a week clocked for most occupations. This is due to the preparation, paperwork, and grading that must occur outside of normal school hours. Many teachers work part-time, especially teachers for preschool and kindergarten. While most teachers work a 10-month school year with two months vacation in the summer, some work summer programs or at other jobs. Preschool teachers working in day care settings will often work year round. Most states have tenure laws regarding the termination of teacher jobs. This means that teachers are provided some job security in that they cannot be fired without just cause and due process. Teachers that have successfully completed a probationary period of about three years are qualified for tenure.
Education and training
All 50 states and the District of Columbia require public school teachers to be licensed, whereas licensure is not required for private school teachers. Teaching licenses are given by the State board of education or an advisory committee. Requirements vary depending on the state, but all states require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree and to have completed an approved training program. It normally takes about 5 years to receive your bachelor’s degree in elementary or secondary education. Approximately one third of all states require that teachers complete training in technology as part of their certification process. In addition, some states have strict minimum grade point averages for teaching licensure, and others even require teachers to have a master’s degree in education, which takes at least one year longer to obtain than the bachelor’s degree. The majority of states require candidates be tested for basic skills such as reading, writing, teaching, and subject matter of choice.
States have requirements for teachers concerning continuing education and renewal of licensure. In addition, many states offer alternative teacher licensure programs for people who have bachelor’s degrees in the subject they wish to teach, but do not have the coursework required for a teaching license. The programs are meant to attract recent grads and career changing individuals into the profession of teaching.
Following are national median salaries for teachers at various primary and secondary school levels, based on 15 years of experience.
Source: Salary.com, September 2003
According to TeacherLinkUSA, New Jersey currently pays its public schoolteachers the highest average salary in the nation, $53,280, with South Dakota coming in last at $30,260.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job prospects for the teaching profession are expected to be above average and excellent due mainly to the large amount of teachers retiring in the coming years. There will be increased competition for teachers with impressive backgrounds, with some states attempting to lure teachers from other locations with bonuses and higher pay. States seeing the highest enrollment increases in teacher programs are the south and west, while the northeast and midwest may experience declines. Enrollments will rise in grades nine through twelve and remain steady for all other grades through the year 2010. School location of course plays a role as well, with the lowest enrollments existing in inner cities and rural areas, and a shortage of jobs existing in suburban areas.
With additional education or training, teachers often move into such positions as librarians, reading and curriculum specialists, and guidance counselors. In some school systems, teachers can become senior or mentor teachers that hold additional responsibilities in guiding other teachers, and enjoy higher pay. Other related occupations, requiring similar skills and aptitudes, include school administrators, adult educators and trainers, college and university faculty, childcare workers, social workers, and coaches.